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African-American US Merchant Marine oiler Arnold Fesser

African-American US Merchant Marine oiler Arnold Fesser, 1944. ~ Photo Courtsey of US National Archives (#357-G-203-4690)

“No cultural figure in modern American history, with the possible exception of Woody Guthrie, so completely identified his life and art with the fate of American labor,” according to historian Mark Naison.

Robeson’s choice of songs at the NMU conventions reflected his political—and personal—engagement with popular culture, American patriotism, visions of racial and ethnic equality, and labor solidarity.

At the 1941 convention he sang: “Joe Hill,” “Water Boy,” “Ol’ Man River,” “Bill of Rights,” “Fatherland,” “Jim Crow,” “Spring Song,” “Song to Joe,” “Ballad for Americans,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

Three songs were so popular he sang them all three NMU conventions he visited (1941, 1943 and 1947): “Joe Hill,” “Old Man River,” and “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”

It Ain’t Necessarily So

« Flash required »

(George & Ira Gershwin)

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The things that your preacher is liable to teach ya
It ain’t necessarily so

Li’l David was small but oh my
Li’l David was small but oh my
He fought big Goliath who lay down and dieth
Li’l David was small but oh my

Oh Jonah he lived in de whale
Yes Jonah he lived in de whale
For he made his home in dat fish’s abdomen
Yes Jonah he lived in de whale

Li’l Moses was found in a stream
Li’l Moses was found in a stream
He floated on water ’til ole Pharaoh’s daughter
She fished him she says from that stream

Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
Methus’lah lived nine hundred years
But who calls dat livin’ when no gal’ll give in
To no man what’s nine hundred years

I’m preachin’ dis sermon to show
It ain’t nessa, ain’t nessa
Ain’t nessa, ain’t nessa
It ain’t necessarily so


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